To provide some background info, I’m a 23-year-old woman and currently going to grad school. I got into a heated argument with my boyfriend yesterday and he made a low blow comment about my having a large butt. I didn’t make any type of insult to him that would warrant this. I twice demanded that he apologize, but he refused. So I walked over to where he was, slapped his face, told him that was for being disrespectful to me and to leave my apartment immediately. He got angry and shoved me out of the way on his way to the door. Do you think I was too harsh with him? Not sure where to go from here.
Sincerely, Scarlett O’Hara
Dear Miss O’Hara,
You shouldn’t have slapped him. Not only did you exploit an unfair double standard and introduce violence into your relationship dynamic, but I’m guessing that you also lost some of your power by doing so. He said something shitty, but you did something shittier and therefore you are the one who has to try to make it right. In our society we call a woman who slaps her cheating spouse a spitfire and laugh at videos of women beating their towering mates over and over again with their pocket books. These reactions reinforce harmful stereotypes, stereotypes that depict women as hysterical and unable to contain themselves and men as brutes who feel no pain. If we want to be treated differently – dare I say, equally – we have to start questioning these stereotypes. For you, that starts by understanding why this double standard is outdated.
It’s double standards like this that give dumb dudes on Facebook ammunition in their rants about why we don’t deserve equal treatment. If we want to be treated equally, we have to hold ourselves to higher standards and leave behind sexist practices. Get rid of that image in your head of Scarlett O’Hara slapping Rhett Butler and replace it with the image of calm, powerful you, containing your anger and being a better person for it. (Emulating the low, lilting song of an old film star, however, and hissing, “You goddamn coward, you bastard!” should remain in every woman’s repertoire, especially if your partner buys the wrong yogurt or uses the last of the hot water.)
Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is to not do anything. Don’t hit your partner, don’t yell at your child, don’t retaliate with an equally low blow. Furthermore, don’t walk out on your job, and don’t honk and scream “DIE BITCH!” at the elderly woman who swerved, ever so slightly, into your lane to avoid killing a baby chipmunk.
We also have to start thinking about why these stereotypes exist in the first place and questioning them. This is not who we are, innately. It’s what we’ve been taught is acceptable. These rules of conduct, the behaviors with which we react to conflict, are made up and it’s my opinion that they were cultivated to make women look and feel weak, irrational, immature and flighty. Sure, we are sometimes physically weaker than our male partners, but we’re not emotionally weaker, so let’s not act like we are.
In short, we should only use violence if it’s in self-defense – if you’re actually defending yourself against violence, rather than hurtful words or actions. Even if you walk in on your spouse licking cherry Jell-O off of some 18-year-old, you have no excuse to hit him. In that case, I would suggest good old-fashioned witchcraft instead. Call the corners, make it happen, be the bigger person.
Now, I can’t in good conscience wrap this up without addressing a couple other things. First off, you stated that you didn’t say anything to warrant his hurtful comment about your derriere. If this is true, then he’s either a total moron or pretty damn vindictive. Any man with half a wit knows that insulting a woman’s physical appearance is something they don’t come back from. We’ve got an elephant’s memory when it comes to that shit. You could be married 60 years, holding the hand of your beloved wife on her deathbed, and she’ll lean into you and whisper, “I hope you don’t sprain your back hauling my fat ass to the cemetery.” Either he’s a little daft or he’s got some anger issues of his own. Something to think about.
Secondly, he pushed you. Now, you didn’t specify if it was a violent push or more of a swat. Were you aggressively blocking the door and hurling plates at him, and he shoved you to protect himself? I don’t know, but the fact remains that he pushed you. So, you introduced violence into the relationship and he retaliated with more violence. Not a great sign. But, depending on what actually happened, and only you know at this point, it may not be a deal-breaker.
Just know that domestic abuse often starts small, sometimes in the form of verbal abuse, or a shove, and escalates little by little until suddenly you are in a full-blown abusive relationship and don’t even know how you got there. Abusers often will provoke you into physical violence so that their retaliation is seen as a grey area. So, these are questions you have to ask yourself and I hope you’ll be honest with yourself and get the fuck out if there are any red flags.
If this fight was not that dramatic and you want to move forward, you have to start by communicating with him, clearly, honestly and rationally. Tell him that what he said hurt you and then apologize for your reaction. Be clear that you will never be violent with him again and that he can never be violent with you again. If his reaction to this conversation is less than favorable, and you feel the need to call the corners, you have my email. Seriously, these spells are not gonna cast themselves.
Sincerely, A Woman
Ask A Woman is an anonymous advice column wherein this Asheville writer gives candid, honest advice about everything from consent to dating to harassment and whatever else you people cook up. I’m providing a platform of anonymity, not so either of us can hide behind invisibility, but to eliminate egos and insecurities and cut out the bullshit in an effort to perpetuate education. If you would like to ask me a question for my column, drop me a line here. -Eve S. Dropper